Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A sacred space for the 21st century is upon us: Its name is the Cathedral of Christ the Light.

Drawing upon the tradition of light as a
sacred phenomenon.

Imagine a 21st century sacred space built with modest materials ~ primarily wood, glass and concrete ~ that draws on the tradition of light as a sacred phenomenon, and during daytime hours is lit entirely by natural daylight. There is such a sacred space.

The Cathedral of Christ the Light is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland, Calif. It is the seat of the Bishop of Oakland and it is also a pivotal point of worship for Catholics throughout the city of Oakland as well as Alameda County.

The cathedral's name is a departure from the Catholic tradition of naming cathedrals after Mary the Mother of God or a patron saint.

Cathedral of Christ the Light /
Reflections of a city and of its cathedral.
Built in 2008 and bordering the city's Lake Merritt, the Cathedral of Christ the Light replaced the Cathedral of Saint Francis de Sales, which was irreparably damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 that shook the Bay Area.

"It is a spiritual font that inspires and unites our richly diverse diocese in its mission to sanctify, educate and serve," says Reverend Raymond Sacca, rector of The Cathedral of Christ the Light, on its website http://www.ctlcathedral.org/. "Whenever I enter the cathedral, I find myself drawn beyond the worries and distractions of the day into the majestic, yet serene, presence of Christ whose compassion and peace lift up my spirit."

An amazing structure with a wooden /
glass skin that creates an interior
full of light.
It is inviting to experience Mass in this sacred, light-infused Modernist space. It is also a welcoming space for listening to a concert of uplifting music or sitting quietly for a few minutes in a pew simply to enjoy and admire the sanctuary.

The architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP designed the sacred space that is The Cathedral of Christ the Light, calling it "an amazing structure with a wooden/glass skin that creates an interior full of light." Ground was broken on May 21, 2005 and was consecrated and dedicated on September 25, 2008. It was built on a site of 2.5 acres and the cathedral structure itself consumes 20,996 square meters. The exterior of the sanctuary is 118-feet high and has seating for 1,350 people.

The main Cathedral superstructure, which is located at the busy Oakland intersection of Grand Avenue and Harrison Street, across from Lake Merritt, is unlike any I have ever seen. I've driven by the cathedral hundreds of times and its beauty never ceases to amaze me. 

According to the architect, the superstructure consists of a "hybrid structural system of reinforced concrete, pre-fabricated glued laminated wood timber members, high-strength structural steel rods paired with glued laminated wood compression struts, and a steel friction-pendulum seismic base isolation system. The superstructure is supported atop an eighteen-foot-high mausoleum substructure of reinforced concrete extending to a reinforced concrete mat foundation."

21st century thinking / The lightest ecological
 footprint was always a core design objective. 

"As its name suggests, the Cathedral draws on the tradition of light as a sacred phenomenon," says the architectural website Archdaily.com ~ http://www.archdaily.com. "Through its poetic introduction, indirect daylight ennobles modest materials ~ primarily wood, glass, and concrete. With the exception of evening activities, the Cathedral is lit entirely by daylight to create an extraordinary level of luminosity."

What is impressive to the casual observer is learning that the lightest ecological footprint was always a core design objective. Also, it is encouraging to find out that through a highly innovative use of renewable materials, the building minimizes the use of energy and natural resources.

Indeed, the Cathedral of Christ the Light is a sacred space with a 21st century sensibility.

To read more about The Cathedral of Christ the Light, please see:

To view a colorful pictorial of The Cathedral of Christ the Light, please see:

To read an article from Architectural Record about the cathedral, please see:

All photographs by Michael Dickens, copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

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